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J Neurosci. 2019 Nov 13;39(46):9207-9220. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1674-19.2019. Epub 2019 Sep 23.

The Abused Inhalant Toluene Impairs Medial Prefrontal Cortex Activity and Risk/Reward Decision-Making during a Probabilistic Discounting Task.

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Department of Neuroscience.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Addiction Sciences Division, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina 29425, and.
Department of Psychology and Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Colombia V6T 1Z4, Canada.
Department of Neuroscience,


Inhalant (e.g., toluene) misuse is linked to behavioral and cognitive deficits in humans, yet preclinical studies of the effect of inhalants on higher-order cognition are limited. We addressed this gap in the literature by examining the effect of toluene vapor exposure on risk/reward decision-making in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats using a probabilistic discounting task. In this task, rodents chose a risky/large reward or a safe/small reward, with the odds of risky reinforcement descending or ascending throughout the test session. We observed a dose-dependent, sex-independent deficit in behavioral flexibility during probabilistic discounting caused by acute toluene exposure. Rats exposed to toluene vapor during adolescence and tested as adults performed comparably to air-treated controls and were susceptible to the effects of an acute toluene challenge. These behavioral flexibility deficits observed suggests dysfunctional medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) activity. To address this hypothesis, we virally expressed the genetically encoded calcium sensor GCaMP6f in glutamatergic mPFC neurons and monitored calcium transients in real-time using in vivo fiber photometry. mPFC activity peaked before either lever press during free-choice trials in toluene- and air-treated animals. During forced-choice trials, GCaMP6f transients shifted from pre-risky to pre-safe choice, an effect mitigated by acute toluene exposure. mPFC activity decreased during rewarded trials, with larger decreases following risky/large wins compared with safe/small wins. Toluene-treated animals also had decreased mPFC activity during rewarded trials, but there was no distinction between risky/large wins and safe/small wins. These results provide physiological evidence for mPFC-dependent behavioral deficits caused by toluene.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Inhalants (e.g., toluene) are an understudied class of drugs of abuse that cause devastating behavioral and cognitive deficits in humans. Understanding the neurobiological interactions of toluene vapor using animal models is important for developing effective treatment strategies for inhalant addicts. Here we find that toluene vapor reduces behavioral flexibility in rodents making risk/reward-based decisions. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) drives behavioral flexibility during this type of decision-making and we show that toluene reduces the ability of mPFC neurons to track optimal choices as reward probabilities change. Toluene also reduces these neurons' ability to distinguish between small and large rewards. A combination of these factors likely leads to the impaired performance in probabilistic discounting following acute toluene exposure.


GCaMP; adolescence; behavioral flexibility; drugs of abuse; inhalants; prelimbic cortex

[Available on 2020-05-13]

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